Gina Cody, MEng 81, PhD 89, broke new ground at Concordia as the first woman to be awarded a PhD in building engineering at the university. The president of CCI Group Inc., a leading national engineering consulting firm based in Toronto, says gender issues may well have been present throughout her career, yet she’s never given them much attention or energy.
“I always worked really hard and spoke up for myself,” says Cody, who was named one of Canada’s Top Women Entrepreneurs by Profit magazine in 2010. “If you do your work well, people remember — especially if you’re a woman — because there are some individuals who still don’t expect that.”
The youngest of five children, Cody always had an innate curiosity about how things fit together. “If a table broke, I tried to fix it,” she recalls. “If our television stopped working, I took it apart to find out why.”
She knew she wanted to focus on structural engineering by the time she entered high school, where she excelled in all her subjects.
At Iran’s Aryamehr (since renamed Sharif) University of Technology, Cody was among the approximately 10 per cent of female students in engineering. After earning her BSc in structural engineering in 1978, she was accepted at McGill University. However, her brother introduced her to Cedric Marsh, who had joined Concordia’s Department of Civil Engineering in 1969 and was a founding member of the university’s Centre for Building Studies.
“He invited me to be his graduate student and, since I found his work in developing a way to make buildings more earthquake-proof to be very interesting, I agreed,” Cody recalls. “Concordia was one of the few universities with a large-scale shaking table at the time, and I used it to test the effectiveness of friction damper devices in making buildings more earthquakeresistant for both my master’s and PhD research work.”
After teaching briefly, she worked for the Ontario government to update the province’s building code. Cody next joined Construction Control (now CCI Group) as an engineer and initially focused on temporary structures, developing a manual for crane operating engineers within a year.
Initially she concentrated on heading up smaller CCI divisions, with some of these departments merging as she proved her management and leadership abilities. “Women in general are very detail-oriented, which makes them really good at handling various challenges,” she says.
Cody sees gender as slowly becoming less of an issue within engineering. “Of course, there will always be somebody who complains about something, but if you know your job and do it well, it’ll be hard to argue with you,” she says. “If women shy away because of the occasional controversy, they’re doing a disservice to the women who worked hard to advance gender equality.”
She also encourages women to find ways to work while raising a family. “I realize that not everyone is fortunate to have a very supportive husband and/or be able to hire full-time help, like I did, to raise my two daughters,” she says. “But it’s important for both parents to assume equal responsibility for childrearing and, with affordable daycare now, there are more options.”